29. Silence/Speaking

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 29 :  A Time for Silence or Speaking

Eccles 3:7 a time to be silent and a time to speak

I was at a barbecue, attended by about forty people I think, and I stood there at one point and looked around at the chattering that was going on. In some cases it was one to one, in other cases groups of three, four or five. One of the thing human beings do is talk – and talk a lot. Talking is the way we express relationship. It may be the very tentative opening words with a stranger, but even there we are seeing is some form of basic relationship can be formed, even for a few minutes. It may be the catching up on the news with someone you haven’t seen for a long time; you are re-establishing the relationship you have, distant though it often may be. With others it may be just the ordinary, every-day type of chatter, but talking goes on wherever there are relationships between human beings. We talk because we know things and we want others to know them as well. We talk because we don’t know things and we want to find out.

Today’s verse has an almost ominous feel to it. There are times when it is better to keep your mouth shut and times when you need to speak out. I think standing before God is often a time when it is best to keep quiet. I know that at the times in life when I have been most aware of the holy presence of God, I just wanted to keep quiet. Speaking words would have spoilt the sense of beauty and wonder that was there. When Isaiah saw the Lord his first response was an indication of the awareness of the sinfulness of his mouth: Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isa 6:5). I always like Ezekiel’s wisdom in saying the least possible when the Lord asked him if the valley of dry bones could live: He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” (Ezek 37:3). Smart move, Ezekiel.

Solomon understood this as well:A man of knowledge uses words with restraint.” (Prov 17:27). The more you know the more you realise how much you don’t know.  Elsewhere he said, When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19). Be careful, our words may either reveal what we’re like on the inside or they may lead us into sin by speaking wrongly.  James understood this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (Jas 1:19)

One of the dangers of being a Christian is that we so often forget these warnings and feel we have all the answers and so we impose those answers on all we come across. The trouble is that they may not be ready yet to receive them. Jesus taught, Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Mt 7:6)  I understand that to mean, don’t pour out wonderful things of God to those who mock and deride and just haven’t got open hearts. If someone walked up to you and said, “I’m a communist,” or “I’m a Jehovah’s Witness,” we would immediately think, “Why are they saying that? They must want to impose on me their viewpoint of life.” Yet that is how many Christians act and speak. Yes, we do have the most wonderful news the world can receive, but are they ready to receive it.

If you’re an evangelist you’ll just scatter the seed of the Gospel anyway and your grace can cope with the rejection of many. For most of us, with our next door neighbour or the person we work with, our call is first to let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds,” (Mt 5:16) so that they will ask you about why you are like you are: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet 3:15) but even then, But do this with gentleness and respect,” so you keep the door open for further conversation if they are not ready to go far now. Peter was obviously very much aware of this, perhaps because the Gospels so often record him opening his mouth rashly. Is this why he speaks to wives: Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” (1 Pet 3:1,2). Somebody once said something like, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if you have to.”

For most of us, speaking out the Gospel is not so much a case of ‘when’ but ‘how’. We are always to be bearers of the truth, always to be witnesses to Jesus (Acts 1:8) but it is knowing how to say it. A brash and arrogant speaking the truth simply creates hostility. That’s why Peter spoke of doing it with gentleness and respect. Perhaps this is another of those times when we need to shoot up an instant prayer, “Lord, please give me wisdom, show me what to say” (Jas 1:5). Jesus taught, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Lk 12:11,12). There is so much more that could be said about when to speak and when to remain silent, but we will have to rest with this for now.

43. What you say

Meditations in James: 43 : Beware what you say about others

Jas 4:11,12    Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?

A passage like today’s two verses is simple and straight forward, but we might wonder, why is James going off on another tangent?  Well he isn’t, but again we have to look at what has gone before in this chapter to catch the flow. Remember at the beginning of the chapter James was facing us with the inner turmoil that goes on within us because of not having surrendered everything to God (v.1-3). Then he implied that all these desires that had not been submitted to God were the same sort of thing that the rest of the world wrestled with in their unregenerate state, and he called us to side with God against the ungodliness and unrighteous attitudes of the world (v.4).  He then pointed out that God is jealous for a relationship with us (v.5) and longs to give us the grace we need for living, but can only give it to those who humbly seek him (v.6). Out of that came a call to come to God in submission, resisting the tactics of the enemy who would seek to draw us away (v.7), come with a right perspective (v.8-10) and God will lift us up. This has all been a natural progressive flow in his appeal and it is important that we see how one thing flows on from another.

So he has come to a point of appealing that we submit to God, and so what follows? It is important to see this! When our relationship with the Lord is established or re-established, it always has practical outworkings in respect of how we relate to other people. The vertical relationship with God ALWAYS results in changes to the horizontal relationships with people. You cannot have a real relationship with the Lord and it not have impact on the way you relate to people.  In passing we might consider how we relate to other people because, as the other side of the same coin so to speak, it is an indicator of the level of relationship we have with the Lord!

James, as a good pastor, knows this, that the Lord wants the expression of our relationship with Him to have an impact on the way we relate to people, and James has it in the back of his mind that he has already written to us about the use of the tongue as being the first outward indicator of how we are on the inside. Right, he says now, if you have submitted yourself to God, check now what is coming out of your mouth in respect of people, because your words now need to reflect your newly re-established relationship with the Lord.

This is a terribly important issue in Christian circles. See what he says: Brothers, do not slander one another. Brothers indicates that he is speaking to Christians, and his simple injunction is don’t say wrong things about other Christians. Now I’ve just suggested that this is a terribly important issue in Christian circles.  Listen to the chatter that goes on in church. Listen to the chatter that goes on between little groups of Christians. Here is the challenge from James. If you refer to your minister or leaders, or to anyone else in the church for that matter, are you careful not to offend on this point? ‘Gossip’ in the church is wrong chattering that pulls down people. Gossip does not look for the well-being and uplifting of people. Gossip is so often slanderous; it does not wholly speak the truth. Slander is speaking wrongly about others. If we give an opinion about our leaders or about others with whom we perhaps disagree, is it an opinion that puts down or does it uplift? What you speak is a reflection of what goes on inside you, and if you speak untruth, it is an indication of a weak relationship with the Lord, and you need to go back over the previous verses in this chapter because they obviously apply to you. But see what else James says about this.

He says,Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. What does he mean? Well today, as Christians, we are under one Law, the Law of love: Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40). If we slander other people, we are rejecting that Law, and putting ourselves above it. It’s like we make a judgment, “I don’t need to be bound by that,” and we put ourselves on the level of the Lawmaker, God! You’re not keeping the royal law of love, says James, if you speak badly of other people, you are judging it. God is the only one who can put aside the Law. An expression of our real relationship with the Lord is that we keep this law and love others, and if we love them we will not speak badly of them. It is that simple!

After all that we have said about the previous verses and how James calls us into relationship with the Lord, the way we speak about others will be the measuring stick for how real our responses to all of that have been. If we find ourselves speaking wrongly of others, we need to pull ourselves up, go back to God, submit ourselves humbly to Him and ask for His forgiveness. A relationship with God is a very practical thing in the Bible. Ensure it is also in your life.

43. What you say

Meditations in James: 43 : Beware what you say about others

Jas 4:11,12     Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?

A passage like today’s two verses is simple and straight forward, but we might wonder, why is James going off on another tangent?  Well he isn’t, but again we have to look at what has gone before in this chapter to catch the flow. Remember at the beginning of the chapter James was facing us with the inner turmoil that goes on within us because of not having surrendered everything to God (v.1-3). Then he implied that all these desires that had not been submitted to God were the same sort of thing that the rest of the world wrestled with in their unregenerate state, and he called us to side with God against the ungodliness and unrighteous attitudes of the world (v.4).  He then pointed out that God is jealous for a relationship with us (v.5) and longs to give us the grace we need for living, but can only give it to those who humbly seek him (v.6). Out of that came a call to come to God in submission, resisting the tactics of the enemy who would seek to draw us away (v.7), come with a right perspective (v.8-10) and God will lift us up. This has all been a natural progressive flow in his appeal and it is important that we see how one thing flows on from another.

So he has come to a point of appealing that we submit to God, and so what follows? It is important to see this! When our relationship with the Lord is established or re-established, it always has practical outworkings in respect of how we relate to other people. The vertical relationship with God ALWAYS results in changes to the horizontal relationships with people. You cannot have a real relationship with the Lord and it not have impact on the way you relate to people.  In passing we might consider how we relate to other people because, as the other side of the same coin so to speak, it is an indicator of the level of relationship we have with the Lord!

James, as a good pastor, knows this, that the Lord wants the expression of our relationship with Him to have an impact on the way we relate to people, and James has it in the back of his mind that he has already written to us about the use of the tongue as being the first outward indicator of how we are on the inside. Right, he says now, if you have submitted yourself to God, check now what is coming out of your mouth in respect of people, because your words now need to reflect your newly re-established relationship with the Lord.

This is a terribly important issue in Christian circles. See what he says: Brothers, do not slander one another. Brothers indicates that he is speaking to Christians, and his simple injunction is don’t say wrong things about other Christians. Now I’ve just suggested that this is a terribly important issue in Christian circles.  Listen to the chatter that goes on in church. Listen to the chatter that goes on between little groups of Christians. Here is the challenge from James. If you refer to your minister or leaders, or to anyone else in the church for that matter, are you careful not to offend on this point? ‘Gossip’ in the church is wrong chattering that pulls down people. Gossip does not look for the well-being and uplifting of people. Gossip is so often slanderous; it does not wholly speak the truth. Slander is speaking wrongly about others. If we give an opinion about our leaders or about others with whom we perhaps disagree, is it an opinion that puts down or does it uplift? What you speak is a reflection of what goes on inside you, and if you speak untruth, it is an indication of a weak relationship with the Lord, and you need to go back over the previous verses in this chapter because they obviously apply to you. But see what else James says about this.

He says, Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. What does he mean? Well today, as Christians, we are under one Law, the Law of love: Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40). If we slander other people, we are rejecting that Law, and putting ourselves above it. It’s like we make a judgment, “I don’t need to be bound by that,” and we put ourselves on the level of the Lawmaker, God! You’re not keeping the royal law of love, says James, if you speak badly of other people, you are judging it. God is the only one who can put aside the Law. An expression of our real relationship with the Lord is that we keep this law and love others, and if we love them we will not speak badly of them. It is that simple!

After all that we have said about the previous verses and how James calls us into relationship with the Lord, the way we speak about others will be the measuring stick for how real our responses to all of that have been. If we find ourselves speaking wrongly of others, we need to pull ourselves up, go back to God, submit ourselves humbly to Him and ask for His forgiveness. A relationship with God is a very practical thing in the Bible. Ensure it is also in your life.